I’ve never been to Madison, Wisconsin but it is one of my favorite places because it is the home of the University of Wisconsin Decorative Arts Collection. This is an online image resource that I highly recommend, but with the warning that you’ll likely get lost. I just spent about 45 minutes getting sidetracked after getting the link in the previous sentence.
About the time Gustav Stickley started making and marketing Craftsman furniture he also launched “The Craftsman” magazine. This publication has sometimes been described as little more than a promotional vehicle for Stickley’s furniture, but anyone who has taken the time to actually read it knows there is much more to it than that.
“The Craftsman” featured articles on all aspects of arts, architecture, design and culture of the period. It’s a resource for understanding what life was like and what people cared about in the years of publication 1901-1916. I started digging into it while doing research for my books “Shop Drawings for Craftsman Furniture” and “Shop Drawings for Craftsman Interiors”. This was before the UWDAC was online, so I ponied up for a scanned edition on discs. There are a couple of books available that are actually excerpts from the magazine, “Craftsman Homes” and “Making Authentic Craftsman Furniture”.
“The Craftsman” was published monthly for 16 years and each issue ran about 100 pages. That’s a lot of ground to cover, especially if you’re looking for specific topics. If you’re looking for the articles on making furniture, here’s what to do:
That gives you a list of all the issues. If you like to browse, start with the early issues. If you’re a fan of Harvey Ellis, this previous post lists his contributions to “The Craftsman”.
From the main page for the magazine, the menu to the left contains a search box. Make sure to select “The Craftsman” from the drop-down list under “Search within a specific title”. Most of the “how-to” articles were in a series titled “Home Training in Cabinet Work”. Enter that term in the search box, or
Our early 20th century ancestors apparently had a lot more on the ball about woodworking than we do, as the instructions are rather brief. Most of the articles begin with a few pages on the philosophy of woodworking, or some aspect of the trade. After that you’ll find 3 or 4 pieces, each with a short paragraph or two about how it goes together, a bill or materials and drawings.
Everything you need to build a piece is there, but you won’t find step photos, instructions on basic stock preparation or joint-making techniques or jokes about flatulence. Instead you’ll find instructions like: “The iron work can be made from the drawing by any blacksmith”.
These pieces are not the same as those produced in Stickley’s factory, but they are similar. I believe that Gus wanted to empower his readers but didn’t want to enable the hundreds of makers who were commercially knocking off his work or to create any confusion about where pieces were from.
If you’re a student of furniture, here are a couple of articles you should read to understand where Gustav Stickley was coming from and what he was trying to accomplish:
A Plea For a Democratic Art by Gustav Stickley from the October 1904 issue.
Structure and Ornament in the Craftsman Workshops from the January 1904 issue.